A direct flight away from Shanghai, Mauritius offers a tropical climate and picture-perfect beaches. But there's much more to do than merely lounging on the sand, as Time Out discover
Mauritians don’t shy away from describing their country as ‘paradise’. Engage in a conversation with someone from the Indian Ocean island nation and it won’t be long before the word leaves their lips. They’ve plenty to point to when justifying its usage; Mauritius is a country that embodies any dream holiday cliché you care to mention: palm tree-lined coral white sands stretch down to azure waters from lush sugar cane fields and spectacularly craggy peaks. The people are warm and friendly, the pace of life relaxed. You can even go swimming with dolphins.
Mauritius thus ranks alongside the Maldives and Seychelles as a fantasy beach holiday destination for many and the immaculate sands once inhabited by the dodo have become the domain of holidaymakers working on their tans. The west and east coasts are dotted with all-inclusive luxury resorts with their own beaches (though it’s usually easy enough to wander onto them even if you’re not a guest), while Grand Bay in the north is home to smaller hotels amid clusters of touristy bars and restaurants.
But Mauritius embodies yet another cliché that makes it worth exploring in more depth: it’s a true cultural melting pot. Technically part of Africa, the island’s population is predominantly Indian and Hindu, yet alongside spectacular shrines to Shiva are beachside chapels and glittering mosques, while Chinese New Year is celebrated as a national holiday. The vast majority of the population is multilingual, with a French-based creole the main tongue, but fluent French and English widely spoken. The various ethnic and religious groups mix comfortably and happily; it’s not uncommon to see people from different backgrounds engaging in a traditional French greeting of a kiss on each cheek.
The French influence is, of course, a legacy of colonial rule. France occupied the island for a century from 1710-1810, taking it over from the Dutch who set up a colony in 1638 after the Portugese had decided not to settle. Britain subsequently invaded and presided over the country until independence in 1968. Voluntary Chinese workers – mostly skilled workers from Guangzhou – arrived in the late 18th century and continued in a steady flow until relatively recently. Port Louis, Mauritius’ small capital, even features a couple of blocks designated as a China Town area with red lanterns strung up along streets with names such as Sun Yatsen Road. Throughout the rest of the island you’ll find people pedalling on Shanghai brand Seagull and Phoenix bicycles.
The vestiges of European colonialism make for some of the more interesting non-beach attractions in Mauritius, with Maison Eureka (entry around 50RMB) chief among them. Supposedly named after banker Eugène Le Clézio’s exclamation when he won the property at auction in 1856, the house and grounds are today preserved as a museum. The maison’s rooms, filled with antique furniture and fading photographs, make for an intriguing wander (there are no captions but informative guides are available), while a narrow path leading off from the back of the immaculate gardens snakes its way down to a pretty waterfall.
For those in search of even more spectacular falls, Mauritius’ Black River Gorges National Park offers plenty. The mountainous area in the southwest of the island provides ample opportunity to stretch muscles made rubbery by lounging on the sand – hiking trails of varying difficulties wind their way through the green peaks and valleys leading to numerous breathtaking views. Some of the walks can be challenging, but there are plenty that can be achieved in just a few hours, leaving you time to head to the nearby Chamarel Rhumerie to unwind afterwards.
Given that much of Mauritius is covered by sugar cane fields, it’s no surprise to learn that rum is produced in large quantities on the island. The Chamarel Rhumerie (entry 60RMB) is one of a number of rum producers in the country to offer guided tours of their premises. Nestled photogenically beneath Mauritius’ highest mountain, the small rhumerie’s tours are brief, but that’s mainly so that they can cut to the chase: the tasting area where they ply you with their wares.
A distant second to sugar cane in Mauritius’ crop output is tea and the Bois Cheri Plantation, to the east of the Black River Gorges area, is another factory worth a visit. Founded in 1892, it is the country’s oldest tea plantation and features a charming Art Deco factory building that it’s possible to take a look around. However, the main reason for visiting the premises is the restaurant (where the 34RMB entry can be used against the price of your meal). The menu of Indian and creole dishes using Bois Cheri’s own tea and vanilla from the company’s sister business at Saint Aubin is pleasant enough, but it’s made all the more enjoyable thanks to the eatery’s panoramic views over the 250-hectare plantation.
For the best local cuisine however, you’re best off checking out one of Mauritius’ local markets. Port Louis’ daily Central Market is a bustling hub with sellers hawking everything from fresh coconut and Indian spices to tourist T-shirts and fake bags, but for a more authentic experience head to the Sunday affair in Centre de Flacq. Larger and more vibrant than the often recommended Monday outing in Mahebourge, Centre de Flacq’s Sunday market features row upon row of fresh fruits, vegetables and spices alongside outcrops of food stalls serving up all manner of dishes at dirt cheap prices.
There’s dholl puri,
a fried take on Indian paratha made with split yellow peas and stuffed with your choice of a variety of curried fillings; mine frites, Chinesestyle fried noodles; a range of sponge cakes with luminous fillings; briyani, a hearty saffron rice dish with grilled meats; gajak, fried snacks including samosas and delicious gateaux piment (deep-fried falafel-like fritters laced with slivers of chili); and a friendly lady selling three different types of grilled pistachios which she’ll happily let you sample. Few of the dishes will set you back more than 20RMB.
And once you’ve eaten your fill you can return to the beach and continue to forget about those smoggy Shanghai skies.
flies direct to the island from Shanghai from 7,000RMB return. Flights are just over 11 hours, but leavning in the evening China time and arrive early morning. With only a four hour time difference and therefore little jetlag, this enable you to get a full day in once you land
Where to stay
Mauritius’ beaches are studded with numerous luxury resorts, mostly concentrated on the east and west coasts. LUX*
, a brand that also runs properties in La Reunion, the Maldives and Yunnan’s Lijiang, has a resort on each side of the island, in the west at Le Morne
, near the surfing hub of Tamarin, and in the east at Belle Mare, in Flacq. The former features a string of charming seaside huts, while the latter boasts one of the best beaches on the island – a large expanse of sand adjacent to calm waters. The Belle Mare resort
’s dining options include a classy Chinese restaurant in Duck Laundry (with a Sichuanese and a Xian chef at the helm) plus Amari by Vineet, an impressive Indian eatery operated under the guidance of Vineet Bhatia, the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star.
In addition to offering a huge range of activities on site (from horse rides along the beach to glass bottomed boat trips), LUX* Belle Mare can also help you organise excursions to go swimming with dolphins or big game fishing (marlins and mako sharks are common in the surrounding area).
Packages at the resort start from 2,463RMB a night based on two adults sharing a room. See www. luxresorts.com for more details.Getting around
Biking through the sugar cane fields can make for a pleasant afternoon trip wherever you're located, but the best way to navigate the small island is by car. Car rental is available through most hotels provided you hold a valid driving liscence (expect to pay around 430RMB a day), or through Taobao for significantly cheaper prices (from 180RMB a day at bit.ly/maurcar). Signage is minimal and largely unlit roads zig-zag seemingly at random through the sugar cane fields, making driving an occassionally stressful experience, but some spectacluar coastal routes and the freedom of stopping wherever you want balance this out. Alternatively, you can hire a taxi to take you around- just be sure to agree a price and rough itinerary before you set off (430RMB for the day is reasonable). Finally a trip on one of the country's brightly decorated buses can be fun if you want to chat to the jovial locals (http://www.mauritius-buses.com/
is an indispensable resource for this mode of transport).Visas
Chinese citizens, along with those from most European countries and North America, can enter Mauritius either without a visa or by obtaining a free visa upon arrival.